La Belle a different kind of beauty by Jean-Christophe Maillot
On February 4, I had the privilege to join a group of balletomanes that were invited to the second Imprevu of the season at the atelier of the Ballets of Monte-Carlo (BMC). A truly surprising and unique occasion to attend the rehearsals of The Beauty (original title La Belle), with Jean Christophe Maillot (Director of the BMC), Bernice Coppieters (divine muse and prima ballerina with the BMC), and Luca Masala (Director of the Academy of Dance Princess Grace) seating on the first row. What a treat to be able to be in close contact with the dancers and ballet masters, observing and trying to understand the choreographer’s aim behind each gesticulation in their insatiable quest for refinement and improvement from the dancers. Bernice was almost dancing herself on the seat with all her body in tandem with the performers on the stage, while taking notes. Maillot created this original, rather unconventional, but attractive version of The Sleeping Beauty for his company, back in 2001, and in no way pretends to follow the traditional story. This ballet is a mix of classical and contemporary dance, set to Tchaikovsky’s score, with a modern, luminous decor by Ernest Pignon-Ernestand, perfect lighting by Dominique Drillot, and the beautiful extravagant costumes by Philippe Guillotel.
Living in a transparent balloon
The original story is a barely disguised metaphor of libidinous desire deferred in which “the sleeping beauty” retains her virginity until her one true love finds her. Maillot went further to explore into the psychological aspects of Charles Perrault’s tale and opposes the shielded world of Aurore which is all lightness, to that of the prince, a sad, solitary, but dreamy youngster who has grown up dominated by his mother who is some kind of monster figure. His is a world of gloom and shadows. Princess Aurora’s arrival in a glimmering white dress, protected inside a huge, transparent balloon, drifting across the stage is truly breathtaking, but balloons can be punctured as she finds out when se is assaulted. Aurora appears lovely and mysterious, innocent and vulnerable. The diaphanous dress and train held aloft by two floating balloons is ripped off, leaving a skin tight costume that seemed painted on the body of the dancer appearing almost naked while still emanating virtue.
Multicolored characters representing feelings
Rainbow-colored figures where the ladies wore clear, transparent balloons on their bellies perhaps suggesting fecundity, in vibrant shades of green, orange, pink, blue, turquoise and yellow take over as the opening festivities begin and where the pink fairy serves becomes the symbol of transition between the old and the new. The funny costumes designed by Guillotel at the same time as the choreography was created, exude an assortment of sentiments, from love and sensuality to jealousy, avarice and yearning.
Prince’s mother stole the show but love prevails
Very good performance were given from all the dancers in this fine company, particularly the man playing in drag as the mother of the Prince, who is powerful, intensely charismatic, with stage filling technique and ultimately stealing the show. As in the original story there is a happy ending, as the lovers reunite and the beasts devour the monstrous mother.
Back in 1999 Maillot was quoted saying, “The alternative to classical dance is not automatically modern dance. There are other propositions which are more subtle and, for me, more interesting.” He seems to stand firmly by that premise.